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WSJ, Shearer, TP on the Orleans Levee Board's failings

The WSJ has a long article on the Orleans Levee Board. To the right you see one of their trademarked line drawings, this time of that board's former head.
To save time, I'll let Harry Shearer summarize the WSJ piece:

concentrates on the fractured responsibility of the levee boards, sewerage and water board, and Port, as well as the Army Corps, for inspection and maintenance of the system. It also points out, appropriately, the failure of the Louisiana Legislature to unify those responsibilities in the recent special session...
What the Journal misses, however, is what the local paper, The Times Picayune, uncovers in Friday's edition, unaccountably not available online (late Thanksgiving?). The highlights: scheduled inspections of the system, conducted by levee board members and officials from the Army Corps of Engineers, were "cursory affairs" that "skipped the floodwalls...exposed by Katrina as the system's Achilles' heel." Beyond these scheduled visits, the agencies relied on grasscutting crews who "know what a good levee looks like".
Says Jerry Colletti, the Army Corps' operations manager for completed works of the admittedly under-thorough inspections his agency helped conduct, "I think it's a good lesson learned." Maybe Mike Brown's new firm has its first hire...
The TP sources its report in both documents and interviews. The WSJ quotes "engineers and others", mainly a National Science Foundation report on divided levee responsibility.
Unfortunately, a lot more people will see the Journal piece than will have access to the TP article.

The TP article he references is now online here.

Levee Board attorney suspended just before discussing Jim Huey

From this:

The Orleans Levee Board's longtime staff attorney was suspended Wednesday just minutes before he was scheduled to offer his analysis of controversial decisions by former agency President Jim Huey to hand no-bid contracts to relatives in the days after Hurricane Katrina and to collect nearly $100,000 in back pay several weeks before the storm.
Gary Benoit, who has pointedly questioned the propriety of Huey's actions, learned of his suspension in the hallway outside the Port of New Orleans auditorium where the board was about to meet.
One of the first items on the board's Legal Committee agenda was supposed to be a presentation by Benoit regarding the failure of Huey, who resigned last month, to consult him on the salary issue or a post-Katrina contract awarded to the son of a board legal consultant.

An un-named fellow employee accuses Benoit of "improper behavior". Interesting timing, no?

"For over 12 years, my civil service record has been exemplary and spotless," [Benoit] said. "Then moments before my participation in a public discussion on matters of importance to the district and to the community, I was summarily suspended. I am totally shocked."

Previously: "AG Foti: fmr. Levee Board president Jim Huey broke law".

AG Foti: fmr. Levee Board president Jim Huey broke law

Foti: Levee Board president broke law

A unilateral decision in July by the Orleans Levee Board's then-president, Jim Huey, to pay himself nearly $100,000 in back salary was a clear violation of state law, Attorney General Charles Foti said Thursday in an opinion issued by his staff.
Furthermore, Foti wrote, the $1,000-a-month salary that Huey collected from June through October was illegal because Huey failed to get approval from the board of commissioners.
The opinion, written in response to an Oct. 17 request by state Inspector General Sharon Robinson, does not address whether Huey must repay the money. But the salary matter is expected to be a topic of discussion today when the board holds its monthly meeting.
Huey, who took the helm of the flood control agency in 1996, resigned Thursday.
Huey maintains that he stepped down voluntarily, but sources say Gov. Kathleen Blanco demanded his resignation after criticism of Huey by his fellow board members had mounted in recent weeks. Blanco controls six of the eight seats on the board...

Head of New Orleans' levee board [Jim Huey] quits

From this:

The head of the Orleans Levee Board has quit amid questions about no-bid contracts to his relatives in the days after Hurricane Katrina.
The final days of board president Jim Huey's tenure also had been marred by his collection of nearly $100,000 in back pay several weeks before the storm. Huey had led the board for nine years.
Huey defended the contracts and said he was legally entitled to the back pay...
"I didn't want to leave under these circumstances, but I fell victim to some other folks who don't know what they're talking about and they have to live with themselves," he said.
Huey would not say whom he was referring to.
On Sept. 1, three days after Katrina came ashore, Huey leased 3,000 square feet of office space in Baton Rouge from board legal consultant George Carmouche, a cousin of Huey's wife.
Huey said he authorized the $30,000 contact to ensure that the agency's executive staff would have a place to operate after its lakefront headquarters was decimated by Katrina's storm surge. He said he signed the lease only after state government failed to provide him a base of operation.
About a week later, Huey approved a business arrangement with Carmouche's son, Scott, to coordinate the salvage of boats damaged or destroyed by the hurricane at the board's two marinas. Huey said he was forced to move quickly on the salvage contract because the recovery of boats by insurance companies and owners was threatening to devolve into chaos.

Previously: "Levee Board chief got thousands in back pay" and Money for levees went to Mardi Gras, overpasses, PI, legal fees…

"Levee Board chief got thousands in back pay"

I'll leave it to someone else to figure out if anything illegal was done in the following, but it shure sounds suspicious:

Less than a month before Hurricane Katrina wrecked the Orleans Levee Board's finances and left the levees it maintains in shambles, board President Jim Huey requested and got nearly $100,000 in back pay that the agency's hired legal advisers - one of whom is a relative of his wife - determined he was entitled to receive.
The payment for about $96,000, which was made without approval from the board or its staff attorney, came on the advice of Gerard Metzger and George Carmouche, two contract lawyers with close ties to Huey, who was originally appointed by former Gov. Edwin Edwards in 1992 and reappointed by Govs. Mike Foster and Kathleen Blanco. Carmouche, of Baton Rouge, is a first cousin of Huey's wife, Becky Metzger of Metairie, and has been a close friend of Huey's since the two attended high school together at Holy Cross.
After cursory research, board officials indicated several months ago that Huey, who has no formal administrative duties, was not eligible for any compensation beyond the $75 per diem that board members can receive for each day they work on agency business.
State lawmakers also rejected the extra pay for Huey. In the waning hours of the Legislature's 2005 session, state Sen. Francis Heitmeier, a Huey ally, tried unsuccessfully to make Huey eligible for a $60,000 annual salary by inserting the pay provision into an unrelated piece of legislation...

UPDATE: Huey has resigned, and "AG Foti: fmr. Levee Board president Jim Huey broke law".

Money for levees went to Mardi Gras, overpasses, PI, legal fees...

The article "Is the Orleans Levee Board doing its job?" would be funny if it weren't so disturbing.
- $2.4 million on the Mardi Gras Fountain...
- $15 million for overpasses to Bally's riverboat casino...
- $45,000 for "private investigators to dig up dirt on radio host and board critic Robert Namer"...
- $45,000 on the settlement after Namer sued...

Critics charge, for years, the board has paid more attention to marinas, gambling and business than to maintaining the levees. As an example: of 11 construction projects now on the board's Web site, only two are related to flood control.
"I assure you," says Levee Board President Jim Huey, "that you will find that all of our money was appropriately expended."
Huey says money for the levees comes from a different account than money for business activities and that part of the board's job is providing recreational opportunities.
And despite the catastrophic flooding, Huey says, "As far as the overall flood protection system, it's intact, it's there today, it worked. In 239 miles of levees, 152 floodgates, and canals throughout this entire city, there was only two areas."
But those two critical areas were major canals and their collapse contributed to hundreds of deaths and widespread destruction.

Whether the Board could have done anything about the floodwalls that failed will probably be determined later.
UPDATE: Huey has resigned, and "AG Foti: fmr. Levee Board president Jim Huey broke law".

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